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REVIEW:  Riding Dirty by Jill Sorenson

REVIEW: Riding Dirty by Jill Sorenson

Riding-Dirty

Dear Ms. Sorenson,

I remember you mentioning on Twitter or a maybe in a blog post that you decided to write an erotic MC (Motorcycle Club) book at least in part because of the popularity of the genre. It is somewhat out of the usual way for you.  It is darker and definitely hotter than your previous books.  That said, it still holds true to what I know of you from chatting with you on social media.  This isn’t a book which lionises MC culture or crime. It doesn’t camouflage the criminal element of an outlaw MC or romanticise it. Because of that I think it will appeal even to readers who don’t normally like MC books.  I also think it stands as proof that a skilled author can write to a trend without sacrificing quality or voice.

Mia Russo (aka Mia Richards, aka Michelle Ruiz) barely survived a home invasion which resulted in the death of her husband three years earlier.  She entered the witness protection programme and has recently returned to California in order to be near her mother, her only living relative, who is in a nursing home at the end stages of Alzheimer’s.  The book explains how she came to be back in California and why and, if it’s not completely kosher in terms of how WITSEC  operates (and I don’t know if it is or not) it felt believable within the context of the book and I was prepared to go with it.

ADA Damon Vargas is the only person who knows her real identity.  He works in the gang crime area and has a real hard-on for putting MC members behind bars.   Damon has offered Cole “Shank” Shepherd a deal: become a criminal informant (CI) and get out of jail six months early (and alive – the Aryan Brotherhood has him in their sights and it’s not very likely he will survive until the end of his sentence).  Vargas poses as Cole’s “parole officer” and Mia is his “life coach”.  It is a little unclear why Mia needs to be involved – Vargas asked her to work pro bono so he could keep this assignment “off the books”, but perhaps it is standard for a newly released criminal to have coaching sessions with a psychologist to help them adjust to life outside of jail.  However, given that it is an off the books operation, it doesn’t seem likely that Vargas actually cares about Cole’s mental health. (We do find out later he has his reasons.)  In any event, Mia appears to take her role seriously and offers Cole  a safe space to relieve the stress of being a CI and also assists him with strategies to control his temper and hopefully, stay out of jail.

Mia has an ulterior motive (in this book, everybody does). WITSEC would never allow her to work with a member of an MC given the circumstances of the home invasion.  She does have experience counselling female inmates but this assignment is a different beast entirely.

Mia was able to identify one of her attackers as Gordon “Gonzo” Lowe, the president of the White Lightning MC.   There was insufficient evidence to arrest Lowe and so Mia was put into WITSEC and Vargas kept trying to identify the other attacker/uncover more evidence which would allow an arrest.  Mia’s plan is to use Cole as a weapon – she will seduce him and entice him to kill Lowe and the other (to be identified) attacker.   Which is kind of an odd juxtaposition with her apparent dedication to her professional role.  I read it that the dedication was Mia’s default and also that she had to play it straight with Cole at the beginning in order to get him to trust her. The therapy sessions had the ring of truth to them and also were not without humour.

She studied his clenched fists and his scarred, tattooed knuckles. T-I-C-K T-O-C-K. “Do you often give in to violent impulses?”

“Not as often as I’d like.”

“Have you tried to make healthier choices?”

His eyes narrowed in disbelief. “Is that a serious question?”

“Yes.”

“Do I look like I’ve made healthy choices?”

Mia is presented as someone who is stuck in her grief. She was very happily married and her life was completely blown apart by the home invasion. She does her work well but it doesn’t satisfy her. She feels nothing much more than her desire for retribution.  She knows what she is planning is morally wrong and professional suicide but she doesn’t care.  She counts the cost and decides it’s worth it.  I appreciated that the professional consequences of her actions weren’t diminished.  I also appreciated that pretty soon after meeting Cole, when he becomes a real person to her rather than just a blunt weapon to be used, she (minor spoiler alert) abandons her plan.

Almost immediately on meeting Cole, Mia starts feeling again. For the first time in three years, she feels attraction and desire.  She begins to care for Cole and think of him as a person with needs and desires of his own.  She goes from thinking that seducing him might not be so hard, to knowing she can’t go through with it, to being helplessly swept away by the heady feeling of having desire and passion again.

It’s not hard to see why Cole is attracted to Mia – she’s classy and beautiful and smart – not surprisingly, he feels she is out of his league but if she wants to go slumming, he’s happy to accommodate her.

Cole is conflicted by his role as CI and his love for his uncle, “Wild Bill” Shepherd, the president of the Dirty Eleven MC.   The Dirty Eleven run marijuana and some guns, but has a strict “no hurting women” policy.  Vargas wants the goods on the Dirty Eleven and Cole wants to find out what happened to his brother Rylan (who was a character in your earlier novel, Badlands I believe).  Bill and his wife, Shawnee, raised Cole and Rylan from adolescence when their parents got hooked on meth.  While their life wasn’t sunshine and roses, there is nevertheless a bond between them and this makes it hard for Cole to think of turning on Bill.  However, Cole was devastated by the death of his brother and if he finds out Bill had anything to do with it, that loyalty isn’t likely to withstand the pressure.

When Cole finds out that Dirty Eleven have been working with White Lightning, he is not happy.  White Lightning do hurt women and have a big meth business – neither of those two things fly with Cole.  Cole went to jail the first time after he beat a White Lightning member (Jesse “Jester” Arno) nearly to death after Jester raped Cole’s 15 year old cousin. I liked the way you expressed the ambiguity of Cole’s relationship with the Dirty Eleven.

Cole shrugged out of the leather garment and tossed it on a chair. His expression was a mixture of pride and contempt, as if the vest was a rowdy dog he loved that had nevertheless bitten a small child.

All of the players have ulterior motives and all of them are involved in shady dealings in one way or another.  Nevertheless, Cole and Mia’s attraction grows and pretty soon, Mia gives in to it and they start seeing each other outside of the therapy room.  The sex is off the charts hot and plentiful.  It is also a bit on the kinky side.  It’s much hotter than other books you’ve written but I must say I think you have a gift.

Mia is a different person to Michelle Ruiz.  While Michelle and her husband, Phillip, had a “better than good” sex life, the home invasion and its aftermath so changed Michelle that she became, in many ways, unrecognisable.  Michelle Ruiz would never have looked at Cole with desire or passion; Mia can’t help it. I thought you did a great job of explaining Mia’s attraction to Cole and I appreciated that Phillip wasn’t demonised (or sainted for that matter).

Cole feels stuck in the criminal world but would like to make changes. He does have a core of “honour” to him but he is not a “good” man in the usual hero type of way.  He is a man who has made mistakes, who has let his temper get the better of him to his detriment, and who doesn’t have a great deal of respect for the law.  While he wants things to be different, he’s never going to turn into a clean cut Mr. Nice Guy.   As it happens, Mia wouldn’t know what to do with a Mr. Nice Guy anymore and, even though things seem impossible, she does begin to wish they could have a future together.

I was really wondering how you were going to pull it all together by the end because things were indeed looking impossible for Mia and Cole.  I liked how, even in the romance genre where the HEA is guaranteed (or at least it better be or Kaetrin gets stabby), you kept me guessing.  While there was one element of the denouement I felt wasn’t set up quite as well as the rest, overall, the resolution felt believable and authentic and also delivered the romantic ending I was after.

It is clear that you are lovingly familiar with the areas in California where the book is set and it has a wonderful sense of place.  I also loved how you embedded Mia’s cultural heritage into the story. I’m not an expert but it didn’t feel fetishised, while at the same time, it clearly formed part of her. If one took those aspects of Mia away, she would have been a very different character.

The writing is mostly kind of spare, with short sentences that can sometimes seem choppy.  On the occasions when you let your adjectives out, they shone against the sparse backdrop and gave those passages extra punch and emotional authenticity.

I liked Dirty Eleven very much. You took the erotic MC storyline and gave it a Sorenson twist to create a story that is both different and entertaining.  Also, did I mention that the sex is scorching? I give it a B.

“You look like you’re having a bad day. Let’s combine your bad day and my bad idea, and be bad together.”

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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REVIEW:  November Rain by Daisy Harris

REVIEW: November Rain by Daisy Harris

November-Rain

Detective Joe Klamath is used to guys falling on their backs at the arch of his commanding eyebrow. Yet he can’t seem to get a read on a cute, department-store sales guy. The vagrant who just walked in, though? He’s easy to read. He’s dangerous.

Joe’s training kicks in, but as he wrestles the gun-wielding man, he gets shot.

Raised in a conservative Ethiopian community, Elias Abraham keeps his natural attraction to men under wraps. But Joe’s heroism moves him to care for the man who saved his life. After all, Joe is hurt. Chances are slim he’ll demand the types of things boys in college always wanted. Sex acts Elias wasn’t—and possibly never will be—ready for.

Gradually, Joe’s easy confidence softens Elias’s resistance. But as Joe’s healing progresses too slowly for a man of action, and trouble brews in Elias’s family, Elias begins to wonder if he can handle the pressure. Because though he hasn’t given all of his body, he’s already given all of his heart.

Warning: Contains a sexy-as-hell cop, a shy virgin fifteen years younger, and an extremely intimate sponge bath. Underpants optional.

Dear Ms. Harris,

(Is it only me with a Guns ‘n’ Roses ear worm?)

I read the blurb when I first requested the book for review but had forgotten it by the time I actually read the story. I was kind of hoping at first that Joe wasn’t one of the heroes because I didn’t like him initially. I thought he was overly aggressive and a bit of a dawg.  Unfortunately, my opinion of him didn’t improve all that much over the course of the book.

Also, early on there was some name confusion and in more than one place Joe was called Jack – an error I sincerely hope was corrected before the book went on sale.

Actually, it’s under 120 pages so I should call it a novella.   And the problem with novellas is that there isn’t a lot of time or space to show a relationship develop believably to the exchange of “I love you” and a HEA.  In my opinion the best ones get around this by having the main characters already know each other or by delivering a hopeful Happy-For-Now ending rather than the whole box and dice.  Here, Joe and Elias meet, fall in love and get their HEA in less than 120 pages.  Frankly, my note when Elias first thinks (after knowing Joe for about a week and barely sharing any conversation with him) “I love you” was  oh honey, no.  Elias is soft spoken and shy.  He is presented as having a natural reticence which is largely influenced by his Ethiopian culture.  He hadn’t had a relationship before Joe – just some meaningless and embarrassed college fumblings and I thought he was far to naive and immature to truly know what he was doing when it came to Joe.

Because we get both perspectives, we know that Joe initially assumes that he and Elias will merely hook up and his sexual aggression (he wasn’t violent, just forceful and pushy) felt so much more alarming when I’d spent time in Elias’s head and knew how shy he was of physical intimacy.  Quite a lot of their foreplay is essentially crossed wires where Joe makes assumptions that Elias either doesn’t understand or doesn’t correct.

Joe had been in a 10 year relationship up until about a year before the book begins.  It appears to have been more of a convenience and a friendship rather than true love but it is clear that Joe is still hurt that things ended.  He is also hurt that his ex, Dan, is getting married so soon after their break up and Elias is the perfect arm candy for Joe to take to the wedding to save face.  Joe doesn’t come across as having much insight into himself or others, notwithstanding that he is a police officer in a Crisis Intervention Unit, partnered with a registered counsellor.  His communication skills are poor and talking about his feelings is difficult – so he mostly doesn’t do it.

I was interested in the Ethiopian cultural aspects of the story and I thought you did a good job of moving Joe from a fetishising racist at the start to someone who becomes far more culturally sensitive and aware of the racism of others (although I think he remains too accepting of it). The casual racism displayed by some of the secondary characters and bit players felt depressingly authentic.

Elias lives with his older brother Solomon and Solomon’s wife, Sara.  Sara isn’t coping well in America, having immigrated from Ethiopia via an arranged marriage.  She particularly dislikes the winter and is quite depressed.  Solomon struggles to understand his wife and provide support to her, and Elias is reluctant to intervene in his brother’s marriage.  Even though Solomon and Elias were raised in the US, their cultural identity is very much Ethiopian.  Arranged marriages are very common (apparently) and overt displays of affection are rare. Being gay, for an Ethiopian male is even more fraught. Elias knows that his parents (who have returned to Ethiopia) will disown him if he comes out and he is terrified that he will lose Solomon and Sara (his only family in the US) if he shows himself to be openly gay.

I understood the attraction for Joe in Elias – Elias is younger and prepared to do just about anything for Joe (honestly the servile nature of some of it was uncomfortable for me) – but I struggled to see what was so great for Elias about Joe.  Yes, Joe is good looking but, particularly at the beginning, he treats Elias as little more than a piece of meat.  In fact, during the course of the story, Elias does stand up for himself on occasion (something for which I was very glad) and tells Joe that he will not be treated that way.  But Joe keeps crossing Elias’ boundaries with no compunction. The best example of this comes later in the story. I have hidden it under a spoiler tag, so readers can choose to read about it or not. 

Spoiler: Show

When Joe is invited for Thanksgiving dinner to Solomon’s house, Elias makes it abundantly clear that there can be no physical contact and Joe must appear to be a friend only – the risk to Elias here is significant; he could lose his family and his home.  However, Joe doesn’t hesitate when he decides he wants to kiss Elias in the kitchen.  And this, after Elias specifically warned him against such conduct. I was annoyed that Joe didn’t respect Elias’ boundaries and given this occurred later in the story, I wasn’t confident he ever would.

The writing was sometimes confusing. Within one paragraph there would be an apparent shift from one character’s POV to another.

Elias sealed their mouths together like he had something to prove, but he deserved to get his nut on, to scrape Joe with his teeth. Joe deserved to get manhandled because he’d been stupid enough to let Dan’s dumbass remarks follow him home.

I felt the depiction of Joe’s injury was inconsistent. It was initially a “graze” but he needed way more time off work and therapy than that would suggest.  The PT doctor was obviously there to teach Joe how to be a better man and that felt heavy-handed.

I think I may have enjoyed this one better if there had been more time for the relationship to develop but things moved very fast and I felt Elias was steamrollered rather than seduced. While I liked Elias, he felt very young, and I didn’t really like Joe all that much.  The best parts of the book were those which dealt with the culture shock Sara suffered when she emigrated but even then, the word count meant this didn’t get enough page time either and the resolution felt pat.

Ultimately, November Rain was not a success for me.  I had initially graded the book at a D+ but on reflection, I think the multicultural aspects of the story raised it to a C-.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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